Saturday, January 8, 2011

Emerging Domestic Security Threats and Challenges Facing the Philippines

by Rommel C. Banlaoi

(This piece is a revised version of  the author's article, “The Philippines” in Caroline Ziemske Dickens and Julian Droogan (eds), Asian Transnational Security Challenges:  Emerging Trends, Regional Visions (Sydney:  Macquarie University and the Council for Asian Transnational Threat Research, 2010), pp. 123-136.)

               The emerging domestic threats and challenges to Philippine national security are largely determined by the country’s current internal security threats emanating from  Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG),  Local Communist Movement (LCM), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and rouge factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).  The recently launched Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) intends to address these internal threats through a combination of military and non-military approaches. 

             Other emerging domestic security threats and challenges also come from current threats posed by transnational organized crimes and non-traditional security issues.  All these issues have become so deeply enmeshed with each other and have formed complex inter-relationships that addressing them also requires a complex strategy. 

          The following, therefore,  are the emerging domestic threats and challenges to Philippine national security: 

1) Terrorism-Crime Nexus;  
2) Environmental Degradation, Natural Disasters and Climate Change;
3) Spread of Infectious Diseases; and
4) Rapid Population Growth.
            Terrorism-Crime Nexus

            Terrorism and crime are continuing threats to Philippine peace and order and internal security.  Terrorism-crime nexus has become a rapidly emerging security threat in the Philippines as a result of  the growing collusion of terrorist groups and organized criminal syndicates in the Philippines that can blur the distinction between military and police operations against them.  Arms smuggler, drug traffickers and human smugglers are now closely linked with terrorists and vice versa.  Trafficking and smuggling routes provide terrorists convenient passages to their operatives.  Terrorist groups venture into the smuggling of arms, drugs and persons to mobilize resources.  They also connive with ordinary criminal groups to mount kidnap-for-ransom activities to generate income.

            The ASG is the most terrorist group in the Philippines.  From its peak of 1,270 reported members in 2000, its strength reduced to not more than 400 as of the end of 2010.  But independent estimate of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR) reveals that the current strength of the ASG is not more than 200 core followers.  There is no doubt that getting the exact membership of the ASG is difficult as the group colludes with ordinary bandit groups in its usual areas of operations.  The ASG usually operates in the mountainous terrain of Sulo, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi.  ASG members are also sighted in Zamboanga City and Marawi City.

            Sulo has the highest concentration of ASG members, followed by Basilan, Zamboanga City, Tawi-Tawi and Marawi City.  These areas are also favorite “havens” of organized criminal groups operating in the Southern Philippines.  Because terrorists and criminals have them same operational turfs, they mount joint activities for mutual gains. 

            Thus, since its founding in 1989, the ASG has never been a homogenous organization.  It has been composed of various factions whose leaders have various motivations from mere banditry to Islamic insurgency.  There is even a current debate on who is presently leading the ASG.  Yasser Igasan, who is more ideologically motivated,  was earlier recognized as the over-all amir of the ASG but this is being contested.  It is viewed that Radullan Sahiron, who is less ideological,  is the current Amir of ASG.  There are other leaders with great propensity to commit crimes,  who wield tremendous influence on the operations of the group.   The 18 cellular groups of the ASG  released by the AFP in 2009 indicates that the Abu Sayyaf is a heterogeneous movement.  Each of these groups have their own network with local bandits and organized criminal groups that are deeply engaged in piracy, armed robbery, arms smuggling, drug trafficking, extortion and kidnap-for-ransom activities.  

            Among the notorious criminal groups in the Southern Philippines,  the ASG had reported linkages with the Pentagon Gang and the Abu Sofia Group.  The Pentagon Gang was deeply engaged in various kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) activities in Mindanao.  Founded by Tahir Alonto, who was associated with the MILF, the Pentagon Gang also connived with the ASG in several KFR operations in the Southern Philippines.[1]   The Abu Sofia Group, on the other hand, was founded by Bebis Binago who was known to have close relations with MILF and ASG personalities  operating in Central Mindanao.  Abu Sofia Group was involved not only in several extortion and KFR activities but also in drugs and arms trade. It has been recently estimated that 80% of the current ASG members are plain bandits and only 20% of its members have ideological conviction.  Most of its members have, in fact,  become “militants for hire” to earn a living in poverty stricken island of Mindanao.  

            The LCM or the New People’s Army (NPA) also has confirmed collusion with the organized criminal groups.  The Red Scorpion Gang (RSG), which masterminded several bank robberies, KFR, drug smuggling, gun running and extortions in the Philippines, was organized by NPA guerillas who joined forces with criminal groups.[2]   NPA leaders also used ordinary criminal syndicates in their extortion activities. In 2008 alone, the AFP reported that the NPA extorted a total amount of P62 million (or $1.5 million) from business establishments, quarry operators, local politicians, construction companies, telecommunication companies, mining companies, logging companies, fishpond owners and private individuals as part of what the NPA calls, “revolutionary taxes.”

Natural Disasters,  Environmental Degradation  and Climate Change

            By virtue of its geographic location, the Philippines is prone to natural disasters.  The Philippines suffers an average of 20 typhoons a year, 6-7 of which  can cause tremendous flooding and landslides.   In 2009 alone, strong typhoons claimed the lives of  464 persons.  Typhoon Ketsana was the most devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines in 2009 having killed at least 464 persons,  displaced  300,000 others and destroyed more than 11 billion pesos worth of properties. [3] Being located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines is also prone to earthquakes that can cause massive volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.  The Philippines experiences on average 887 earthquakes annually. So far, the worst earthquake that hit the country was in 1990, which killed more than 5,000 persons and damaged multi-billion pesos worth of properties and infrastructure.  Because of its toll to human lives and properties, natural disasters have become a threat to human security of Filipinos.  Without effective disaster management system, the impact of natural disasters can be more devastating than terrorist attacks.

            Aside from natural disasters, the Philippines has also been suffering some man-made disasters as a result of environmental degradation caused by deforestation, pollution and illegal fishing.  Only 3% of the Philippine environment is covered by forest because of illegal logging and slash-and-burn agricultural practices. Continuing loss of the Philippine forest is causing soil erosion, which threatens the country’s rich land biodiversity.  With very few forest covers left,  pollution problems are aggravated.  Air pollution creates severe health problems while water pollution destroys the marine biodiversity of the Philippines.  The combined impact of deforestation and pollution makes the Philippines one of the most endangered areas of the world from one of the world’s biologically richest countries. 

            The rapid loss of Philippine biodiversity is exacerbated by harsh impact of climate change, which is manifested in the Philippines by the occurrence of extreme weather such as floods, drought, forest fires and increase in tropical cyclones.[4] It has been reported that:

These extreme weather events associated with climate change, and the disasters these have wrought, have caused losses amounting to billions of pesos. From 1975 to 2002, tropical cyclones have resulted to losses of 4.578 billion pesos due to damage to property, including damage to agriculture worth 3.047 billion pesos. Drought in Southern Mindanao in 1998, the 2nd hottest year on record, incurred crop losses amounting to 828 million pesos. And damages due to four successive tropical cyclones towards the end of 2004 cost the nation an estimated 7,615.98 million pesos.[5]

            The effects of climate change is an emerging threat to Philippine national security as it can cause severe devastation to  the Filipino people and its territory.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has forewarned that climate change “could have a devastating impact on the Philippines, leading to widespread destruction of the country's flora and fauna and flooding the capital Manila.”[6]  According to NASA scientist, Josefino Comiso, “The Philippines is a country that is among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”[7]  Scientific studies also validate the great vulnerability of the Philippines on the harsh impacts of climate change.[8]

Climate change has  become a  rapidly emerging security concern in Southeast Asia.[9]  The United Nations’ Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contends that climate change can result in adverse effects including increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, increased intensity of storms, greater frequency of heat waves, floods and droughts, more rapid spread of diseases, and accelerated loss of biodiversity.  In the Philippines, alone, the El NiƱo-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomena have been more frequent, persistent and intense since the mid-1970s, compared with the previous 100 years. However, the traditional coping mechanisms of developing countries, like the Philippines, to natural calamities are inadequate to cope with the harsh impacts of climate change.[10] 

            Spread of Infectious Diseases

The spread of infectious diseases has also become an emerging security concern in the Philippines and the wider Asian region.  The recent onslaught of AH1N1 Flu virus (initially known as “Swine Flu”) in early 2009, the outbreak of H5N1 virus (Avian Influenza or Bird Flu) in 2004, the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, and the rapid spread of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) that started in the 1980s are alarming indicators of the seriousness of this problem.  From simply a health issue, the spread of infectious diseases is becoming a security issue because it can cause panic that can undermine domestic and international stability.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), the spread of HIV/AIDS has become one of Southeast Asia’s most pressing health and human security problems. The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reveals that out of  the 30.6 million HIV/AIDS cases worldwide, there are around 6 million cases in South and Southeast Asia. Though the Philippines is still “a low-HIV/AIDS prevalence” country, The number of HIV infections has steadily increased in the Philippines since 1984, with sexual transmission as the primary mode.[11] The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) AIDS Registry reported that around 3,456 Filipinos are  living with HIV/AIDS as of 2009.  But the UNAIDS estimated that at least 12,000 Filipinos were HIV-positive by the end of 2005.  If the spread of HIV/AIDS viruses is not controlled, it can threaten health security in the country and this has tremendous implications for state and human security.  These health insecurities are exacerbated by the emergence of other pandemic diseases like bird flu and swine flu. 

Bird flu, for example, affected Southeast Asia in 2004.  Around 200 million birds in Southeast Asia have either died or were killed as a result of the outbreak.[12]  Among the ten countries in Southeast Asia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam were the most affected. Though the impact of bird flu in the Philippines was not as severe as its neighbors in Southeast Asia, the outbreak of bird flu caused human panic in the region because the H5H1 virus directed infected some humans.[13] Scientific research shows that the bird flu virus may mutate into a new form of human flu that can spread rapidly.  Thus, bird flu is considered an emerging security risk.[14]  This was a great challenge to ASEAN as a regional institution considering that Southeast Asia was also hit by a pandemic disease of SARS in 2003. 

Singapore has been the worst hit by SARS, with 206 reported cases and 31 deaths as of May 2003.[15]   Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam were also affected by SARS by different levels of intensity.  SARS outbreak created a dent in the economy of Southeast Asia creating enormous impact on the Philippine economy, particularly in the area of tourism.[16]

            The recent outbreak of AH1N1 virus also created state and human security risks considering that it had already spread worldwide. The WHO declared the virus a global pandemic issue having affected  more than  30,000 verified cases in at least 74 countries in 2009.[17]  The Philippines was affected by the spread of AH1N1 virus with the infection of at least 800 persons and the death of one.

There is no doubt that infectious diseases are spreading across national borders that can undermine regional stability and national security.  Thus, ASEAN is intensifying its cooperation in Functional Areas in order to address the regional security implications of the spread of infectious diseases.  ASEAN has also endorsed the creation of Southeast Asian Nations Infectious Diseases Outbreak Surveillance Network.  Since 2007 in fact, ASEAN has been implementing the emerging infectious disease (EID) program to strengthen regional and global network for purposes of information sharing and collaborate actions against the spread of infectious diseases.[18]   The Philippines actively participates in the EID program through the Department of Health (DOH).

            Rapid Population Growth[19]

Rapid population growth has also become an emerging security issues in the Philippines.  With an estimated population of 92 million people in 2009, the Philippines ranks 12th as the most populous countries in the world.[20]   With an annual population growth rate of  2.04% in 2006, which is in fact a lower population growth rate compared to 2.3% in 2000, it has been projected that the Philippines will reach a population of around 95 million at the end of 2010.  If this rate continues, Philippine population will double in three decades.  Thus, by 2040 the Philippines will reach a population of almost 190 million.  Rapid population growth, if not managed effectively, will create tremendous stress on national resource allocation, particularly in the areas of food security, health, housing, basic education and other social services.[21]

As early as the 1960s, experts already warned the world on the fast ticking of the “population bomb”.[22]  Uncontrolled population growth can become a world menace as it exacerbates world hunger and strongly contributes to the rapid deterioration of the world’s natural environment.[23] The Philippines was not spared from this catastrophic warning! Rapid population growth could severely aggravate Philippine poverty,  quickly slow down national economic development, seriously magnify health-related problems, and terribly worsen the country’s environmental degradation, which, if taken together, would unleash enormous threat to Philippine national security.

[1] Philippine Center on Transnational Crimes, “Organized Crimes in the Philippines” (Manuscript, January 2003).
[2] For a brief analysis, see Sheila Coronel, “Criminals, Inc.”, Public Eye, Vol. 9, No. 1 (January-March 2003) at <accessed on 3 February 2010>.
[3] National Disaster Coordinating Agency (NDCC) Update, 30 September 2009.
[4] “Philippines Losses Billions to Climate Change”, Philippine Star (4 November 2006).
[5] Ibid.
[6] “Climate Change Can Devastate the Philippines – NASA Scientist”,  Agence France Press (17 September 2008) at <accessed on 4 February 2010>.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Aida M. Jose and Nathaniel Cruz, “Climate Change Impacts and Responses in the Philippines”, Climate Research, Vol.  12 (August 1999), pp. 77-84.
[9] Bernadette P. Resurreccion, Edsel E. Sajor and Elizabeth Fajber, Climate Adaption in Asia:  Knowledge Gaps and Research Issues in Southeast Asia (Kathmandu:  ISET International, 2008).   For the security impact of climate change see Chris Abbott, An Uncertain Future:  Law Enforcement, National Security and Climate Change (London:  Oxford Research Group, 2008);  CNA Corporation, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change (Virginia:  CAN, 2007) and Joshua W. Busby, Climate Change and National Security:  An Agenda for Action (New York:  Council on Foreign Relations, 2007). 
[10] Arief Anshory and Herminia Francisco, Climate Change Vulnerability Mapping for Southeast Asia (Singapore:  Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia, 2009).
[11] See Philippine National AIDS Council at
[12] Adams Country Health Department, “Pandemic Influenza and Avian (Bird) Flu” (Manuscript, December 2005).
[13] Ibid. 
[14] Ann Marie Kimball, “When the Flu Comes:  Political and Economic Risk of Pandemic Disease in Asia” (Manuscript, Washington: University of Washington and APEC Emerging Infections Network, 2006).
[15] John Roberts, “SARS Outbreak Deepen Economic Decline in Southeast Asia” (2 June 2003) at <accessed on 18 July 2009>.
[16] Ibid.
[17] UN News Center, “World Facing Global A (H1N1) Flu Pandemic, Announces UN Health Agency” (11 June 2009) at <accessed on 18 July 2009>.
[18] Mely Caballero-Anthony, Julie Balen and Belinda Chng, “The Swine Flu Alert:  Keeping Asia Safe”, RSIS Commentaries (29 April 2009).
[19] This portion is based on the author’s report to the League of Municipalities of the Philippines. See Localizing Population Management In The Philippines: A Record Breaking Accomplishment And Exemplary Practice of The League of Municipalities of The Philippines (Manuscript, December 2009).
[20]National Statistics Office, 2000 Census-based Population Projection in collaboration with the Inter-Agency Working Group on Population Projections (8 December 2006) at <accessed on 22 September 2009>.
[21] Luningning Achacoso-Sevilla, “A Framework for Analysis:  Broadening the Population Debate” in The Ties that Bind:  Population and Development in the Philippines (Makati City:  AIM Policy Center, Asian Institute of Management, 2004), p. ix-xv.
[22] Paul R. Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (New York: Ballantine Books, 1968).
[23] Ibid., p. 46.

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